A study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy shows that, despite what some parents may think, their influence on their teen's behavior is still more powerful than the influence of peers. Despite this, only one in three high school seniors reports that they talk with their parents about this incredibly important issue.
In another study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost half of the 15- to 17-year-olds surveyed reported that they have never talked with their parents about sexual decision making. They also haven't discussed sexual issues such as HIV/AIDS, other STDs, and birth control. Only 11 percent of the sexually active teens in the survey said they discussed sex with their parents before having sex; 28 percent discussed sex with their parents after having sex; 37 percent of these students said their parents don't know they're having sex; and 20 percent said their parents found out some other way.
Experts say that teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to wait longer before having sex and to use methods of protection when they decide to have it. Why don't more teens talk to their sex? Some say they think their parents would assume they are having sex if they bring it up; other say it's too embarrassing.
But It's Embarassing…
"My mom used to ask me question about sex," say 19-year-old Mitchell, "and I couldn't run away fast enough. It was so embarrassing!"
"I will never forget the first time I asked my mother a question about sex. I used a term she had never heard before and I had to explain it. I have never been so humiliated," relates Leah. Now a mother of her own teenage daughter, she adds, "Now I realize she must have been embarrassed too. I wish we could have just-laughed about it and then kept talking."
Sound familiar? One of the main reasons both teens and parents give for not talking about sex is mutual embarrassment. "Both of you need to acknowledge your discomfort," says Steve Saso, high school teacher, seminar leader, and co-author of Ten Best Gifts for Your Teens. "It helps to know that parents are human beings too and that sometimes they feel awkward and nervous."
Betsy Crane, professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, says, "Talking with parents about sexuality can be both embarrassing and rewarding. The topic is a personal one, so that makes sense. What's important to remember is that they will feel the same way!"
Top 10 Talking Tips
So—how do you begin a conversation like this with your mom or dad? Here are some tips to follow.
Pick a good time. "Choose a time that your parents are not too hassled or busy," says Crane. "Raising a sensitive topic right after they get home from work is not a good idea. Instead, check in with them later in the evening and say you'd like to talk. Ask if it's a good time. If not," she continues," make a plan to talk later or the next day. If they ask what it's about, just say it's something personal, but not urgent. Another good time to talk is when you are alone in the car, as long as it's not on a busy highway that demands their attention." Steve Saso agrees. "This isn't a time you want your parents to be distracted," he says. "The car is often a great place."
Pick a good opening line. "My daughter came back from camp last summer," says Tami, mom to a 17-year-old, "and greeted me with, ‘Hi, Mom! What do you think about lesbians?’ This wasn't the best approach to the topic I could have asked for," adds Tami with a smile. The point of the talk is to have a discussion, so open up with something that will make both of you feel less defensive than you might have in thin case. Some good examples are: "I want to talk to you about something personal"; "I have some question about something"; or even the good old fallbacks "I know this girl/guy...," "I have this friend...," or "I heard that..."
"If you just want to open up the conversation but don't have an urgent problem or question," advises Crane, "try asking about how they think things have changed for teens since they were young. This keeps the topic away from being specifically about your sexuality or theirs can lead to some interesting talks."
3. Treat your parents as you want to be treated in return. If you want your parents to listen to you with empathy, respect, and fairness, you have to do the same in return. "Remember that parents are humans with their own feelings and insecurities," says Dr. Graman, "so treat them gently. If you want a good response from them, give them something to respond to." If you expect them to listen to your opinions openly and patiently, do the same to them. If you want them to stay calm and noncritical, do the same in return. Crane adds, "Listen to their values, even you don't agree. You'd want them to do that for you."
4. Ask your parents if you can have an "amnesty talk." This term, according to Saso, means that you can tell your parents anything, openly, without fear of punishment. Knowing that you aren't going to got in trouble will help you to open up and talk honestly.
5. Don't be afraid to use a little humor now and then. A quick laugh together over something said or done can help you bond.
6. Do some reality checks. Make sure that you are both hearing what the other one is actually saying. It's easy—especially when discussing something as touchy as sex—to misunderstand the meaning or intention behind another's words. If you are feeling angry or frustrated, make sure you ask, "Did you mean to say this?"—to see if you missed the real message.
7. Remember that your parents were once teens too. Ask about their experiences and how they handled different situation as they were growing up. One mother, Carol, puts it this way: "We are very open with out teenage son about everything. We talk openly about difficult subject. We try to look back at how life was when we were teenagers, what we were doing, and at what age we were doing it. We tell him the mistake we made and why we wish we hadn't done some things. Above all," she adds, "when he comes to us with a problem, we listen to what he is saying before we give our opinion or advice. Sometimes he takes it and some-times he doesn't. He is a kid, and he's going to make mistakes along the way just like we did. It's all part of the process of growing up."
Mike Domitrz comments, "When teens talk to their parents about sex and do so in a respectful manner, teens are often surprised to learn their parents' real feelings about intimacy, privacy, and respect."
8. Continue the dialogue. Once you have opened the doors to this kind of conversation with your parents, don't stop there. Be willing to keep channels open between you in case an emergency comes up—or just another question. "Once you've had these kinds of conversations, it will be easier to turn to your parents when and if you have a real problem or concern," adds Crane.
9. Be appreciative. A simple "Thinks, Mom/Dad. This has been helpful" will do absolute wonders to help strengthen the bond between you and your parents. Just letting them know that you appreciated their time, thoughts, and attention is terrific.
10. If that first conversation doesn't work or goes badly, don't give up. If you give this a try but still walk away angry, frustrated, or disappointed, don't stop there. Maybe it was the wrong moment, day, topic, mood—whatever. Think about what might have caused it to go the wrong direction, and use that information to make the next talk that much better. Of course, if you find yourself in a situation where it just will not work to talk to your parents, you can always search out some support and help from older siblings, relatives, doctors, clergy, school teachers or counselors, the parents of a friend, or even books in your local library.
Your concerns and questions about sex are important. In fact, they're too significant to leave them up to guesses and gambles. Your parents love you and want to help. Give them a chance, and find out just how much they mights surprise you in the process!
- Orr, Tamra; How to Talk to Your Parents About Sex; Current Health; Nov 2002; Vol. 29; Issue 3.
Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information regarding guidance for teens on how to talk to their parents about sex. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
What advice may be given to a teen who doesn’t have an urgent problem but wants to open communication about sex with their parents?
Record the letter of the correct answer the